13-Year-Old Is Creating App That Will Help Visually Impaired Order Food

When Emmanuel was six years old, he found out that he was legally blind. Having just celebrated his 13th birthday, he is now in the process of creating an app he is calling EyeMenu that will help visually impaired people with a task many of us can take for granted: ordering food at a restaurant counter. His family had discussed the idea for months, but it didn’t begin to move toward reality until his mom, Emilie, met folks at Techcrunch Disrupt SF, where she pitched the idea to the co-founders of Ideator while they waited for a car. Read from Emmanuel and Emilie how the idea was born and how you can help this become a reality.

Last year during a fieldtrip to Golfland I had an idea for an app that can help a lot of blind people in restaurants. I was having fun playing golf, arcade games and going down water slides. When it was 5:00 pm I wanted to eat, but I ended up not eating anything at all because I couldn’t see the menu at the restaurant. In some restaurants, like fast food, menus are far away, high on the walls behind the cash register.

It was difficult for me to see the menus on the wall behind the register. I only saw lines. It’s hard and I realize how blind people don’t like it and I want to help them and myself through this awesome idea. So, later that day I came up with the idea of an app to help blind people see menus from different restaurants, later my brother named it EyeMenu. -- Emmanuel

Jose, Emilie, and Emannuel sitting in on the couch in their living room.
Jose, Emilie, & Emmanuel. “I feel happy for my brother and the people we are going to help,” Jose.

When my son Emmanuel was seven years old I got the phone call that his vision problems were not correctable and were caused by damage to his optic nerve. At the time of the call I was relieved because it meant his vision would not get worse. It wasn’t until later that night, hours from the phone call and once Emmanuel and his brother, Jose, were asleep, that I realized the magnitude of the diagnosis: My son is legally blind and there was nothing I - or anyone - could do to change that.

That was six years ago when Emmanuel was in first grade. He went to bed by 8 pm. We were home in the evenings. But as Emmanuel becomes more independent, his disability presents new challenges. With a later bedtime comes more evening activities and a greater need for Emmanuel to use his cane. More independence means learning new skills, so that he can safely cross a street even though he can’t see the walk sign or lights. For each predictable challenge - being out later, crossing streets - comes barriers we hadn’t thought of. We never thought about him not being able to see the buttons on the microwave or most recently, not being able to see the menus at some restaurants.

For most kids, going up to the counter at a restaurant and ordering their own food is a right of passage. A pride from doing something that adults usually do. If you look for it, you can usually see the cashier smile as the child counts out change or proudly hands over the money. It turns out that even the idea of doing this terrified Emmanuel because he can’t see past the cashier. The menu above the register is just a blur to him. He doesn’t need to read the menu at Subway to know he wants a turkey sandwich. But what if the person making his sandwich looks at the menu and asks him if he wants the meal with his sandwich? I could look up and see the picture of the soda and chips or soup, but Emannuel can’t.  Because he knows this could happen, he avoids ordering on his own altogether.

Some restaurants have online menus but those may not list prices. Sometimes there is a take out menu at the counter that Emmanuel can read by holding it close to his face. Only about half of all restaurants have a paper menu that includes all menu items and prices. Sometimes it’s possible to take a picture of the menu on the wall and then enlarge the text on the picture, but some restaurants have poor lighting for photographs. There are websites that list menus, but they don’t include many restaurants. In short, there isn’t one place that has all of the menus with all of the important information. EyeMenu would provide the solution to this situation.

For months our family talked about the idea for EyeMenu, but it remained only an idea. It wasn't until I was given the opportunity to work security at TechCrunch’s DisruptSF, a three-day tech conference in San Francisco. At Disrupt SF, I met the team from Ideator.com, a company that helps people “go from idea to business plan to launch”. They told me about Ideator and I shared Emmanuel’s idea with them. Now, we are working with Ideator towards the solution Emmanuel thought of: Creating an app to help visually impaired people access menus.

Menus are just part of the issue for visually impaired people. From this experience, I’ve learned a lot about what blind people can and cannot see. The more I talk to people who are visually impaired about EyeMenu they say, that’s a great idea and then they come up with other barriers they experience. Online, there are certain things your computer can read to you, but if for example, there’s text on top of a picture, the computer doesn’t read it. It’s things like that that aren’t being addressed.

I’ve also thought about the discussion about bridging the digital divide and I’ve realized that people in tech could be helped by talking to people outside their tech bubble. This got started because I was working security at the exclusive Disrupt SF, which cost $3,000 to get in the door. I have to give credit to those two men that actually stood there and listened to an idea from my son, and we have to figure out a way to get these two worlds talking to eachother more; it can lead to many more solutions in the world.

Emannuel with his walking cane

The next steps are to raise funds to finish a business plan with the help of Ideator and create the first version of the app.

Help Make EyeMenu a reality, donate to the
campaign today! 

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This article is part of the tags: Blind community  / Blind entrepreneur  / EyeMenu  / Go Fund Me  / Ideator  / Techcrunch Disrupt SF  / Teen entrepreneur  / Visually empaired Community 


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